“I can remember arriving at school on my first day, knowing nobody. I soon got talking to another girl in my year and together we found our classroom. We had to choose a desk, friends sitting together, and new girls like me just finding a space. Our teacher explained that some girls had scholarships and bursaries and made it clear that no one was to look down at girls who had awards like these. When the register was taken I heard double-barrelled surnames which wasn’t something I’d come across at my previous school. This was a different world. In the first term we learnt dressmaking and I made a mini shift dress – this actually ended up being one of the most useful things I ever learned – how to sew and make clothes.
What I remember most fondly was that, when it was the turn of our class to take an assembly, we could put on our own little productions. I was always very involved – sometimes I played the hymn or led the singing. I also seemed to be the only one who could operate the old record player in the hall. I really enjoyed putting these presentations together – combining music and readings – and I think that’s why I became a primary teacher.
Prior to going to Wimbledon High, I knew little about the school. Though my primary school was fairly close by, girls who passed the 11+ usually went to Wimbledon County, and not many children in my school passed. However, my mother decided to put me forward for Wimbledon High. I was upset at first as my friends would be going to the County. But when I went for my interview at Wimbledon High I wanted to succeed. My mother was keen that I would get into Wimbledon High as her cousin’s children went to similar schools. She didn’t know much about schools herself as she had left at age14; she had heard that Wimbledon High was a good school.
I lived close enough to walk to school but most of the girls came by train. On the way, as I passed the station, I’d sometimes meet a classmate. Those who got the train together usually became friends. I couldn’t visit friends after school or at weekends as my family didn’t have money for me to travel. This was quite hard as I also lost touch with most girls I had been to primary school with. Once I was old enough to have a Saturday job I could keep up.
Interestingly, in the last 10 years or so, I have built a group of friends on social media who were classmates at Wimbledon High; we keep in touch and now meet up once a year. We weren’t necessarily close at school, but enjoy sharing our memories and getting together. We are planning to go on a weekend away quite soon.
My time at Wimbledon High taught me about high standards, especially in subjects like English Language. Sometimes I would help my sister and brothers with homework because we had covered aspects that they hadn’t. Along with all the grammar, I enjoyed learning to paraphrase. This skill I use to this day. I found doing O-levels quite easy, especially English and Maths, as I just knew if things were right or wrong.
Because the school taught me about sewing, when we got to the stage of not having to wear a uniform, I knew how to style on a budget! Still today, I like to make and repurpose clothing – this all goes back to that time at school.
I also enjoyed the responsibility we were given in different situations – I helped by mending the Christmas tree lights in the school hall and getting the old radio in the common room to tune in – I was good with practical tasks. I would put in the time and effort as I knew everything needed to work well and I had a sense of pride.
I think bursaries are very important today because not everyone with the ability and creativity to benefit from a GDST school can afford to pay. There is such a great gap now between wealthy and poor and bursaries can give girls an opportunity to access a slightly different world”.
Alumna, Wimbledon High School
Class of 1971